Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not always what they seem

I pulled into Smithtown West High School to cover our county's girls tennis team championship. It was 2:01 p.m. and I was bumping Nas, feeling good and..yo. What the heck? A woman was approaching my car with a full head of steam.

"Can I help you?" she said, knocking on my door. Here's what she meant: What are you doing here?

Oh, I get it. An unfamiliar young black guy pulls into public high school in an affluent neighborhood. I'm cool. I'm cool.

"Not really," I said politely, my door still closed.

I open my car door, grabbed a notebook and a couple of pens, and reminded myself that I really need to invest in one of those outdoor camping chairs that fold in and out. The woman was still standing there.

"Can I help you?" she said again.

For the record, I'm not that cool anymore.

"I don't think so, I'm OK."

"Well what are you here for?" She was looking at my notebooks, and I was looking at her like she was crazy.

"I'm here to watch tennis, actually," I said. Am I that scary? Are you that racist?

She relented and told me how to get to the tennis courts. All I had in my mind was a letter the athletic director, the principal. Yeah. I was gonna take some names.


I got home after filing my story, weaving through Harlem's Halloween night when my phone rang. It was a copy editor, his name is Todd.

He wanted to know what the mood was like at the school. Besides the woman who harrassed me and the two zombies who pointed me in the direction of the school, it all seemed fine. And it wasn't.

Two Smithtown High School West seniors on their lunch break were thrown from a car and killed and two other teens injured in an accident Wednesday on a stretch of Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown.

I probably looked like a reporter trying to get a story out of some poor, sad kids. Those two girls who I asked directions all made sense.

So much for that letter.

Posted by Darren Sands at 10:06 PM | link | Tell us what you think [3]

Banking on death

I saw this posting on Romenesko and thought it somewhat appropriate (in a long stretch sort of way) for today, the day where many Americans think about death, spirits and the like.

A journalist wrote this blog entry about how the business profits from death shortly after his father died of a heart attack.

Read it. It's interesting. I promise.

What really struck me is that he said he'd written plenty of obits but never gave them more than 10 minutes thought. I did my first metro internship at the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, NY and they put me on the obit desk for solid month to prove that I could handle myself in news. Every day, I wrote stories about people who died. I talked to their loved ones about the things they loved, the things they hated and what their legacy would be. I treated every one of those 10 inch stories as the most important thing in the world because I knew that to someone, it was.

Now that I'm 2 years into my first job-post graduation (today is my anniversary), I kind of know what he's talking about in the colum. I still think obits are important, but it's here where I first learned about newspapers charging crazy amounts for obits. Whenever I talk to sources, they always complain about how much it costs to put a death notice in our paper -- literally hundreds of dollars.

I personally think that obits should be reasonably priced. It's probably the only time some people will get their names in the papers. I think not gouging the prices for their death notices is the least we could do after people spend a lifetime reading our product.



Posted by T Dot at 12:20 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She's so major, they should front page her

Hey guys,

Like you probably know, I've been following a murder trial for the last few weeks.

Well, it finally ended yesterday. Here's the story I wrote to cap the trial. Oh, and it ran on the front page of my paper today.

Go, me!

I'm really proud of it and just wanted to share.

Happy Weekend!

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Posted by T Dot at 12:35 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dialogue is our friend

So, I was able to come up with something the other day. Here's what an empty head, a full notebook and a looming deadline will get you.


It's funny. I was talking to a friend of mine about this story shortly after I filed it. We pass our stories back and forth every so often and critique one another's work. I was a little underwhelmed at the story. I wrote it quickly and thought it wasn't that good. He loved it. Well, he thought it was good and told a good story. Said maybe I was too close to the story (which, clearly had given me a hard time) to really appreciate it.

A full weekend later, I think he's right. It didn't turn out so badly.

What do you think?

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Posted by T Dot at 11:02 PM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's been a long time...

...I shouldn't have left you without a dope post to read through.

I've been in the trenches. Working on the launch of the redesigned website for the Golden Gate [X]press at San Francisco State University. We've got the new front (home) page working. The rest will come soon enough. That's the good news. And the bad...

It's been a trial and a half running a staff of 22 online producers. And my tenure here is only half over. And it's made me reexamine the reasons why I chose to be an editor.

I'll tell you this: some people have no business even studying journalism, let only being on somebody's staff. And I won't elaborate, because this isn't the place. Plus, some of these people still have time to make me eat my words. (I would love to eat my words right about now. I'm hungry. Hell, the website's hungry.)

Signing off for now. More to come.

--Slightly disheartened online managing editor in San Francisco

P.S. Let me know what you think of the new front page. Again: Golden Gate [X]press Online

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Posted by Aaron Morrison at 7:43 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

A quick note

I'm exhausted. Physically and Mentally.

After a whirlwind weeklong celebration of my 24th year of life last week, I got thrust into this trial on Monday.

I walked into the office and my boss calls me into the office and tells me to haul tail to the Kent County Courthouse for jury selection. See, in addition to covering the town of West Warwick, I also cover county courts for my bureau. I was a little upset that I hadn't know this was coming down the pipeline, but I headed down to the courthouse and sat through two days of jury selection.

I've been covering the trial ever since. At each break and recess, I call the Web team at the paper and give them an update. After court wraps for the day, I head to the office (or file remotely if I can) and write up about 18 inches for the next day's paper. Yesterday, I crafted this tale based on the testimony of one witness.

Besides sitting on those hard wooden court benches all day, the case is just kind of trying. I have a heart, so to think that someone could hurt an innocent child like this is really upsetting. I haven't been getting a lot of sleep -- not necessarily because of this alone -- so that's been making things rough as well.

Today, I'm writing for tomorrow and after listening to testimony, I have absolutely no idea what I want to write about. I've spent the last 15 minutes trying to choke down cold Chinese food from lunch. I'm too exhausted (or lazy, take your pick) to go to the microwave in the conference room. It's 5:50 p.m. My story? Due in one hour and 10 minutes.

I have no focus. My head is blank.

This should be interesting.

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Posted by T Dot at 5:25 PM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Saturday, October 06, 2007

You think you know, but you have no idea...

Editors’ Note: You may have seen him at your local party cranking it everyday, but this week, Chris was Superman-ing deadlines on a nightly basis. From field hockey to football, our hard-working freelance sportswriter had First State high school sports covered. Here is a running diary of the highlights from his week that was.


2:45 p.m.: After filling up the tank of my trusty 1992 Pontiac Bonneville, cleverly named “Bonnie,” I set out on the road for my first assignment of the day, a girls’ field hockey match between one of the state’s top teams and a team that, well, wasn’t. As I prepared myself mentally on this two-sport/two-paper/two-town doubleheader, several thoughts went through my mind; “What if the field hockey match goes overtime?” “At what angle should I cover a possible beat down?” “Dang, I’m staving.”

3:30 p.m.: Arrived at the field hockey match, introduce myself to both coaches who are glad to see their girls get some coverage. In a state where football, basketball and track and field are king (and queen), some sports get lost in the shuffle, and after covering field hockey twice, I can say it’s a very interesting sport to watch. Just watch out for the stray shots. They can and will sting you up.

3:57 p.m.: Match starts 10 minutes early, much to my liking. I’m looking at my borrowed cell phone and being mindful of the time because of my obligation to my other freelance employer for a boys’soccer match two towns over at 7 p.m. I whistle “I want to thank you,” by Alicia Myers to kinda-sorta ask God to work some chronological favors for me as I settle in and take notes all match long.

5:30 p.m.: Match ended half an hour earlier, so I was able to round up both coaches and get words and stats from them before I had to roll on to my next assignment. Good thing this match was for the weekly paper so I didn’t have to worry about deadline until the next morning. Story still turned out pretty good though.

With the early start and the quick finish, I’m off on my next assignment with about 90 minutes to spare, but not before….

5:50 p.m.: A quick stop at a Wawa convenience store (my East Coast folks know about those) to refuel on Honey Nut Cheerios Milk and Cereal bars and bottled water. As I sit in the parking lot and eat and look over my notes for the boys’ soccer match, I get the sense that this particular game will not be quick and to the point. Oh, how I love when I’m right.

9:45 p.m.: After 80 minutes of regulation and about 16 minutes of overtime, the visiting school pulls ahead on a breakaway goal and holds defensively to keep an unbeaten record. Soccer’s another sport we should give a chance. No, I don’t mean watching Beckham and Posh shop on Rodeo Drive. That night was my first experience with dictating a story over the phone and for those who aren’t familiar with my speaking style it goes like this; fast and low volume. Thank goodness the copy editor who took my dictation was able to work with me. This would come in hand later in the week. So I rode back home, looking forward to a break Wednesday, and having a Hal Sparks “I wanna know what love is” moment when “U Got It Bad” by Usher was blaring from Bonnie’s radio. Don’t laugh. It’ll happen to you, too.


2:30 p.m.: I arrive at my third assignment of the week, another boys’ soccer match between two upstate teams who will more than likely see each other again come tournament time. Too bad no one else was there at first. I sat alone on an unusually warm October Thursday, sweating like Al Reynolds at a bodybuilding competition, wondering if I had some how went to the wrong field. 30 minutes into wondering, both teams, coaches and the officials showed up, and I was spared the embarrassment of heading to the wrong place.

5:45 p.m.: After four goals for the visiting school, none for the home team and several crazy exchanges between the coaches and an obviously worked up referee, the match ended and after words from both coaches and a player who assisted on the visiting school’s first two goals (and got himself a yellow card), I was off to write the story so I could be out to my alma mater’s first ever televised football game at home. For the first time in years, I got to be a fan Thursday night, and as a sports writer, sometimes you need that break in impartiality to let yourself know you’re not a robot. Although I rock that dance pretty well. Ask my folks.


4 p.m.: While getting dressed and loading up the ride for another Friday night under the lights, I received a call from a paper in Southern Maryland, and they will be interviewing your boy via telephone Monday afternoon. Talk about a confidence booster. I’ve only been freelancing for four weeks and I at least got a call back/interview opportunity. I think I’ll nail this one pretty well, it’s a nice paper, community-oriented, which is good for honing one’s skills, so we’ll see how that goes.

6:45 p.m.: Arrived at the same high school that housed an overtime soccer match two nights earlier. These two teams were known for lighting up the scoreboard, and I had a premonition that there would be at least a combined 65 points last night. How would that prediction hold up?

10:15 p.m.: We got 69 points…49 came from the home team. Total domination on both sides of the ball and another night of dictation for me. This time I was much better at relaying my story over the phone and got it in with 15 minutes left before deadline. I did however wonder about a possible quote of interest I left out of the story. The losing coach was not too pleased that the home team still ran plays up 22 points, and a sophomore running back broke free on a 43-yard TD run with five seconds left. The coach said “I guess it was important for them to get 49 points. But what goes around comes around.” Should I have put that in my story? I don’t know. I know a sportswriter can’t be buddy-buddy, but I’m definitely not trying to ruffle any feathers either. But that’s our job, to at least report things from all angles, and I know that now after last night.


7 a.m.: I was in a panic this morning, kids. I checked the online edition of the daily to collect the link for the game story from last night and it just wasn’t there. I was sure I had made deadline, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to dictate the story. Maybe it sucked, so they didn’t run it? Nah, couldn’t be. So I hopped in the car and rode to the nearest 7 Eleven to pick up the print edition. You know, the stuff we used to read before the internet came along.

Sure enough, there it was, leading off the high school football section of the sports page. I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. 330 miles of driving, nearly 90 dollars spent on gas, 25 spent on food, minimal sleep, and at least 2,000 words typed, the week-long freelance marathon had ended. So what am I going today, you ask? Read the paper of course. There’s this sports writer who I absolutely love reading. He could be going places pretty soon.


Posted by Chris at 8:34 AM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Show & Tell

Boss is on vacation.
Reporters alone in the office.
5:30 p.m. on a Friday before a long weekend.

All adds up to a recipe for disaster.

As I type, I am watching one of my coworkers do handstands throughout the office. I have no idea where this conversation - and subsequent demonstration - originated. I honestly don't care. I just find this absolutely hilarious.

Now, they're demonstrating yoga moves. Ahh, the backbend.

And quirky moves they can do with their bodies. One coworker can make the webbing between his fingers pop like bubblegum.

Now they're asking me what I can do.

...Um, I plead the fifth.

Slap happy reporters. Gotta love them.

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Posted by T Dot at 5:24 PM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Why MJ? WHY?: An Update

Marion Jones, with her mother, arrive at a federal courthouse on Oct. 5. (AP)

A little over a year ago, my fellow-Ten95er Darren - posted this piece about the way The New York Times handled track and field star Marion Jones' drug testing that showed she was free of performance enhancing drugs.

Well, it turns out things aren't always as they seem.

While Jones' sample did come out clean, today, she was to plead guilty to lying to officials about taking designer steroids from 1999 to 2001 in a New York court. As a result, she may be stripped of the five medals she won at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Jones' about face doesn't negate Young Sands' comments that we should give people the same amount of play when they're cleared that journos give when folks are caught in the act.

It just kind of sucks that, after all, Jones' lied.

Gotta say I was rooting for her. Ah well. Such is life.


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Posted by T Dot at 4:32 PM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Monday, October 01, 2007

What do you do when you think your paper might be sold?

You gather around the water cooler and gossip about it, of course.

"Well, does this mean we're being laid off?"
"you know they will lie to our faces right until the minute the ink on the contract dies."
"The Times (as in New York) has been courting us. It seems like the logical next step since they own Boston."

I walked smack dab in the middle of this conversation this morning as I stepped into my office. That was before I logged onto my computer and saw an e-mail from a high ranking executive explaining that our company was essentially being split in two entities: broadcast and print. I listened more and found out a few things.

Our company was being restructured -- not sold (yet).
If anybody got laid off, it would be the part time news aides and assistants who are vital to the paper, but are not reporters (i.e. -- I still have a job)
This might actually be a good thing because the new print entity will come out of this deal with no debt. Kinda cool, I suppose, considering the current state of newspapers.

More conjecture, speculation and some panic continued for much of the monring. We have a meeting scheduled for this afternoon to find out what this really means for all of us. So we kind of shook it off until we found out more information. We have a job to do after all.

I went up to one of my coworkers and asked her if I should be worried. My coworker, a former union gal, told me that the contract we're working under (which expires in December) will protect us. And that I should be fine.

"I'll tell you when to worry," she said with a laugh.

I replied: "Alright, until then, I'm straight."

At least, I hope.

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Posted by T Dot at 10:52 AM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

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